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Interviews | Cliff Johnson

December 6, 2012
Cliff Johnson sits above his locker as Paul Blair drinks some champagne in the aftermath of the Yanks' '78 World Series victory over LA (AP)

Cliff Johnson sits above his locker as Paul Blair drinks some champagne in the aftermath of the Yanks’ ’78 World Series victory over LA (AP)

Cliff Johnson was a member of the 1977 and 1978 World Series teams during the “Bronx Zoo” years of volatility in the Yankee clubhouse.  After being acquired from Houston during the ’77 season, Johnson was a valuable part of the Yanks’ second half of the season as he blasted 12 home runs in 56 games.  In one of his finest moments as a Yankee, he hit 3 home runs in a single game, one of just twenty-nine times a Yankee has accomplished the feat (though as you’ll see, he remembers the moment with a great deal of humility).  He also batted .400 in the 1977 ALCS, helping to lead the team to a second consecutive pennant.

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Who was your boyhood baseball hero?

I was a [Willie] Mays man.

On June 30th 1977 you hit 3 home runs in a game vs. Toronto.  What do you remember from that game?

Well, it was just another lucky night.

Oh, is that all it was?

Yup, the pitchers just kept throwing it where I was swinging.

Down 14 1/2 game to the Red Sox in mid-July, what about that ’78 team allowed you all to comeback and tie for the division?

Well, we had a very good veteran ball club.  We just took off and started winning series.  We’d win a couple of series and then go on a winning streak and win a bunch of games.  I don’t think we can take all of the credit; Boston helped us a lot.

That comeback, of course, led to the famous 1-game playoff at Fenway.  What do you remember from that day?

That was, without a doubt, the longest night of my life.  My oldest daughter, Dana, was born that night after the game.  As a matter of fact, after we had flown out to Kansas City from Boston was when I found out I had a daughter.

What sticks out to you from the game?

Boston had jumped ahead and were winning the ballgame and it was just sailing along.  Bucky’s [Dent] home run obviously highlighted the evening.  It was a hair-raising game.  You just held your collective breath because of how close it was.  But, we had come back like that all year.  That ball club had that type of ability.

During those “Bronx Zoo” years, is there a funny memory that stands out to you?

One of the funny things was that Sparky Lyle would take a knife and scrape the icing off the cakes in the clubhouse.  [Laughs]

What memory stands out to you from your time in New York?

Well, it’s every kid’s dream to win a World Series and I had the opportunity to win two, so probably the first one.  The feeling, the atmosphere… it was a feeling second to none to be able to experience that.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Morrell permalink
    December 10, 2012 10:30 PM

    You ask him nothing about the shower incident with Goose in 79 that doomed the season almost from the start?

    • December 11, 2012 1:11 AM

      Hey Scott,
      For one reason it has been well-documented and unfortunately it is what Johnson is most remembered for as a Yankee. I wanted to focus on the positive things he did in New York as a 2-time champion. Also, in a 2010 Daily News article, Johnson is quoted as saying, “People sometimes ask about it [the fight], but it’s something I don’t elaborate on. In my career, I did some wonderful things. I’d rather expound on the pleasant.” I wanted to honor that and try to focus on the positive things he brought to the team. He was gracious enough to grant me the interview and I felt I should be gracious in return.

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